The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 40, Issue 2

Article 6
Return Migration of Indentured East Indians from the Caribbean to India 1838–1920

Lomarsh Roopnarine


This article examines the return migration of East Indian indentured labourers from the Caribbean to India. It shows that the process of sending back these migrants was complex. On the one hand, the planters lost interest in the migrants once they were no longer indentured, and pushed either to terminate or reduce their obligated financial responsibility of sending them to their native land or grant them parcels of land in lieu of return passages. A majority of East Indian migrants accepted land and remained in the Caribbean, but over 150,000 time-expired indentured servants used whatever means possible, including the Immigration Department and the magistrate courts, to exercise their right to return home. The result was that return migrants had to contribute to their return passage. The desire to return revolved around their attachment to India and their negative Caribbean experiences. The article maintains that some East Indian migrants took with them substantial savings and jewellery, but that the majority went home with about $300 to $500 and in some cases penniless. Nevertheless, many East Indians returned to the Caribbean for the second time, partly because of India’s restrictive caste system and partly because of maladjustment.